Albania air traffic controllers probed of abuse of post

TIRANA, Albania — About two dozen Albanian air traffic controllers have been questioned by police on suspicion of abuse of post following their strike over a pay dispute which blocked the country’s only international airport, a lawyer and the prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

Albania’s government sent troops and police a day earlier to clear striking controllers out of the flight control tower and their offices.

Twenty-four controllers were questioned by police overnight, according to lawyer Rezart Kthupi.

Tirana prosecutor’s office said if they are convicted of abuse of post they could face up to seven years in prison.

The airport suspended 19 flights on Wednesday and it is not clear when flights might resume. The civilian air traffic controllers had said their “incapability of working under stress” would continue for 24 hours.

The government has asked Infrastructure Minister Belinda Balluku to get air traffic back in action, including hiring foreign controllers.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said the strike was illegal.

The controllers’ union says their pay has been cut by 62% over the past year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the same period, Albania’s air traffic has fallen by 57%, according Balluku.

The minister said air traffic controllers are paid $2,490 a month — five times the country’s average salary of about $500.

The strike also turned into a political issue. The government accused the opposition and President Ilir Meta of inciting the strike, while the latter rejected the accusation, saying that Rama is exploiting anything in advance of the April 25 elections.

Llazar Semini, The Associated Press